Ascent of Virtue Chapter 1
By The RPGenius
A march south brought Faval and his knights outside of the first Verdanian
town of their planned campaign.
It was not a campaign that Patty had agreed with. Faval's plan was to retake each town that was on the way to the main capital and drive out Verdanes enemy military presence there. Once the towns were freed, Faval would pick up volunteers to take the places of any soldiers he lost in the skirmish to regain control. He did not expect to lose too many, of course--Verdane had an adequate military from the reports, but was largely unused to actual conflict, whereas Faval's knights were well-trained fighters from Selis's Liberation Army, no strangers to battle and very good warriors.
Patty disliked the plan on the grounds that she felt that the citizens of Verdane had suffered enough under imperial rule and that they shouldn't feel any obligation to risk their lives and suffer further for a conflict that they had not asked for. She also worried that by waging battle within the towns, innocent civilians might be caught up in the fighting.
Faval admired his sister's concern for the Verdanian citizens greatly, and in his heart he felt the same way. But he was a leader now. Soon to be king of Verdane. He had seen the hard choices that Selis had had to make sometimes. He had seen Selis forced to make the choice to kill Ishtar when she left him no other choice, had seen the leader of the Liberation Army make the smartest choice many times even if it came at a heavy cost. Faval had to be a powerful leader if he was to win the trust of the people of Verdane and to rule them as their king. He had to be strong and make the choices that were needed. And he knew that he would need the help of Verdanian citizens to complete this campaign, because with the knights he had now alone he would simply be too outnumbered. And even Patty had to reluctantly concede that they needed all the help they could get.
"Okay," Faval announced to those under his command, "here's our plan, troops. We'll be using the element of surprise here. I think we should go in and force whatever Imperial guards are stationed to surrender. If they won't give up, we have to fight them, but these people are mostly Verdanian conscripts so don't attack unless you have no choice, alright? Once we're in, we'll find out where the guards barracks is, and attack that. Once that's done with, we can fight off any hostiles and decide what to do with our prisoners. This will be the first village we liberate from Imperial rule. Let's prove to our enemies what we can accomplish."
"And remember," Patty chimed in, "be absolutely sure not to hurt any of the citizens in the confusion! They've suffered enough under the Empire's rule, so let's make sure we end that suffering and don't add to it."
And with that, the force rode into the town. The sun was only now rising, and the town was quiet, with but a few early-risers walking the city streets on this new day. As Faval's group passed through the streets warily, the townsfolk would initially give them angry glances, but those glances soon turned to puzzled stares when they saw that these knights and the man and woman leading them wore no insignia of the Empire, but rather the nigh-forgotten colors of the Verdanian Royal House.
"Oy there! Halt! Just who do ye think you lot are?" came a voice from behind the procession. Faval's force turned to see an imperial swordsman and two archers staring suspiciously at them. The swordsman stepped forward to get a better look at the knights he addressed and the young man and woman who led them.
"Ye're not wearin' his majesty Alvis's crest--just where in the Empire're ye all--"
The man was suddenly cut off as a great many spears, swords, axes, and arrows were focused upon him.
"Actually," Faval told him, as he and Patty came before the man, "we are from Grandbell, but we owe our allegiance to a new king there--Lord Selis. And we've been sent to set Verdane free as it is meant to be."
The man gulped fearfully as he looked on at the many weapons before him. He bowed down to drop his weapon to the ground in surrender. Suddenly he pounced at Faval, sword gleaming as he called to his archer allies to alert the rest of the imperial forces within the town.
Faval easily dodged the attack. As the imperial foe stumbled past him, Faval kicked him and sent the man face-first to the ground. Patty quickly grabbed the sword from the fallen opponent's hands, and, holding her own to his throat, brought him to his feet. A knight dismounted and began binding the attacker with a length of rope.
Faval groaned inwardly as he realized that he had lost the element of surprise against any imperial forces within this town. Those archers would certainly be back soon with help. This fight could turn out more difficult than anticipated.
"Alright, our best bet now is probably to prepare ourselves for battle when the town's imperial oppressors arrive. Everyone get in a standard formation and be ready," Faval commanded.
The knights, having had much practice while serving Selis, quickly fell into battle rows with the sword, axe, and lance-wielding soldiers in front while archers and sorcerers took their places behind them. While they fell into formation, Faval unslung the golden Ichival from his back, and Patty quickly made sure that any citizens in the vicinity were off the streets and taking shelter in nearby buildings.
A few tense moments; Faval and the archers tensing their bows, Patty taking her place on the front lines despite Faval's disapproving look, the knights gripping their weapons tensely and keeping their shields raised...and then, from where the street curved further on, came the imperial forces, a tidal wave of knights, foot soldiers, wizards, and archers of all kinds. One moment they simply ran and rode forward. The next...battle cries filled the air as arrows flew, steel, iron, and silver clashed, and blasts of fire, wind, and lightning engulfed warriors.
Faval was a blur of motion, notching the mighty Ichivel, taking quick yet accurate aim, firing his deadly missile, and without a moment's hesitation repeating the process, all in a matter of seconds. He could feel the power of the Ichival lending its strength to him as always, giving him the swift movement and steady stamina to keep this incredible pace.
Even as the former mercenary kept up this deadly cycle, his mind keenly analyzed the situation before him as his soldiers clashed with their foes. Something...something wasn't right. He didnt know what was wrong, but the something he was seeing was wrong.
A sudden flash of terror in his mind! He threw himself to the ground an instant before an enemy archer's arrow flew through the air he had just occupied. Another flash! Faval rolled to his side and behind a street vendors stand, narrowly avoiding another arrow. Silently thanking his mystical bow for the insights it shared with him which his own warriors instinct didnt pick up, he took this moment of cover to look at what the situation was.
His position was now somewhat behind the main action, though several Bow Knights and Mage Knights of his were still attacking from this position. Several feet before him, he saw his many close-range knights engaged with knights and foot soldiers
And they were being overwhelmed. There were imperial soldiers everywhere! The streets were swarming with enemies, far more than Faval had planned to meet even in a worst-case scenario! Not only that, but it appeared that these foes were just as skilled in combat as Favals soldiers, even though the typical Verdanian troops should not have any actual combat experience.
Faval wasn't watching a battle, he was watching an inevitable slaughter. Each moment that passed brought a new friend to the ground, another friend's face frozen in an expression of death.
And now, imperial foes were breaking through Faval's troops and attacking those behind the lines. Faval watched in numb shock, unable to move as enemy knights began striking down his helpless archers, as his Mage Knights tried to fight back in the close quarters. A body knocked from its horse landed next to him. A body who had once been an ally, a close friend...
Dead. So many were dying because Faval had led them astray. They were dying because of him! Everywhere! He had sent his friends to their deaths!
A sudden flash of terror in his mind, and he tore his eyes away from the body that lay on the ground beside him to see an Axe Fighter in front of him, about to bring his heavy steel axe down upon him. Faval felt the Ichival guide his body as he nimbly dodged to the right to escape the attack, but the enemy warrior was smart enough not to let Faval put enough distance between them to use his bow. He pursued the Sniper relentlessly through the street, attacking over and over with his hefty weapon. Were it not for the mystical guiding enhancements to his agility and movements given by the Ichival, Faval's shocked and devastated mental state might have meant his end. As it was, he continued to dodge his foe's strikes over and over, unconsciously looking for ways to get far enough away to counter this assault.
And suddenly Patty was between Faval and his attacker, easily countering each frenzied strike of the axe with her Hero Sword. She found an opening in the enemy's defense, and one fatal blade thrust later the threat was no more.
"Faval!" she yelled over the din of clashing metal, booming thunder, crackling fire, whizzing arrows, shrieking horses, cries of war, and screams of death. "Faval, theres too many! We need to get out of here! We've gotta retreat!"
Patty's voice over the sounds of war managed to shake Faval from his stunned state somewhat. Taking his battle horn to his lips, he furiously blew the signal for his forces to withdraw.
Faval's forces struggled to disengage and retreat, fleeing through the streets of the town to escape the pursuing imperial forces. As he ran with his allies back the way they had entered the town, he tried to focus his mind off the still, lifeless expression of the dead man who had been so close to him a moment ago and onto some way to escape.
"Where can we go?" he asked Patty as they ran. "They refuse to let us go; they want to completely destroy us! We can't elude them forever; we need someplace to take shelter!"
"Head to the forest just south of town!"
Both Faval and Patty turned their heads to see a man running a little behind them, holding an iron sword in his hand. He was no imperial, but seemed rather to just be a common Verdanian citizen.
"What? Who are you?" Faval asked in confusion.
"Listen to me!" the Verdanian ordered urgently. "Just run to the forest, you can hide there!"
Faval did not have long to consider the option; his band was quickly approaching the edge of town. Making a quick decision, he shouted the order to his troops that they were to head southward to the thick woods, deciding that there was no better chance of escape from the maddened hornet's nest of imperials. He had screwed up so badly, but at least he might still be able to save those of his friends still alive. He had to!
It was only a few minutes more of retreating until Faval's force had reached the forests edge. Without hesitation, they charged into it. The Verdanian man quickly outdistanced the rest and disappeared in the heavy foliage; he obviously knew the forest well.
Faval's force did not have as much luck with negotiating a way through the woods. Faval and Patty managed to make fair progress through the cumbersome forest, but with no easy and clear path to follow, the knights' horses' progress was slow and awkward. The knights were hampered by branches, fallen logs, rocks, trees, bushes, and general rough terrain as they tried desperately to outrun their pursuers.
Having noticed this, Patty grabbed Faval's arm to stop him. "Faval," Patty told him, panic beginning to creep into her voice and expression. "Faval, we can't do this! We're barely moving, and they've only sent the guys on foot in here after us; theyre going to catch up with us in a couple minutes! If we keep running, they'll be attacking our backs!"
Faval's heart stopped when he heard this and realized its truth. This forest was a death-trap. If they kept running, they would be overtaken and destroyed. If they stopped, they would be attacked and overwhelmed by numbers. He...his decision to come into this forest had killed them all! Everyone was going to die because of his foolish mistake!
"Faval," Patty told him urgently, "we'll have at least a small chance if we make our stand here and face them instead of waiting for them to catch up."
How had this happened? How could this happen, how could he have so badly miscalculated!?
"Faval!" Patty all but screamed. "Faval, snap out of it!"
He had killed his friends!
"Everyone," Patty yelled, realizing that Faval was temporarily incapable of leading, "we need to turn around! They'll just attack our backs if we keep running! Get in formation if you can!"
The knights assembled themselves in a hasty frenzy, trying to form ranks as quickly as possible. Patty was about to join them, but saw that Faval was simply standing where she had stopped him a moment before, stunned horror on his face.
Patty grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him a little. "Faval! Faval, listen to me," she ordered him forcefully. "Faval, you've got to get out of here. We can make sure you aren't followed, at least not for a little while. Brother, you have to go now, you can't die here, you're the king; your people need you. We all need you to SNAP OUT OF IT!"
She had no more time to spend here, already there were arrows flying and magic blasting as the imperial foot soldiers drew closer. She turned and ran back to the knights.
Faval shook his head. What was he doing!? Even if they had to die, he couldn't just stand here. He had to help his friends, he at least owed it to them to die with them for his mistake. They needed him. He ran after Patty.
As before, the imperials hit Faval's group like a tidal wave. Even though there were fewer now, since all the horseback imperial soldiers had ceased the chase at the forest's edge, Faval's troops were still outnumbered, and worse, easily out-maneuvered in this forest terrain. Once more the sounds of battle deafened the ears of all.
Faval immediately resumed his deadly and rapid cycle, the Ichival once more lending its strength and speed to his task. Enemies once more fell as leaves in the autumn wind before his legendary bow and warrior's skill.
Patty quickly rushed at the first opponent she saw, a mage preparing to attack a nearby knight. She ran and slammed herself into the man, knocking him to the ground. She steadied her balance and prepared for a counterattack.
As expected, a reprisal came as the mage extended his arm from his position on the ground. Patty took a deep breath. She suddenly heard thunder above her. She hurled herself to the side as a bolt of lightning ripped into the ground where she had just been. Wasting no time, she leapt forward and drove her blade into the man's chest.
Having finished one foe, she immediately looked for another and saw a nearby Axe Knight ally trying desperately to evade the attacks of a swordsman, a Sword Master by his clothing. Patty would not have much chance of defeating him, even with the superior craftsmanship of her Hero Sword and with the considerable expertise she had acquired from Skasahar, Shanan, and Lakche during training in Selis's army. But if she didn't intervene, the Axe Knight would surely die.
She charged toward the swordsman. Seeming to sense her attack, he took his attention from the knight, who was immediately beset by other foes, and turned to face the young thief.
Patty knew that if she gave the man any opportunity to attack, she'd have little chance of surviving his assault. She ran forward and brought her blade down in a sweeping arc upon him.
He easily countered her attack, but then, she knew that he would. She twisted her arm so that her blade did a small half-circle to beneath her enemy's, and pushed up. Not expecting this, her opponent was thrown off-guard as his sword was pushed aside. Patty spared no time in taking advantage of this momentary awkward stance and thrust the Hero Sword at his torso.
No such easy attack would be successful, though, for the Sword Master was far too quick and easily side-stepped the blade, letting it harmlessly stab the air he had just occupied.
Still Patty was not surprised by this evasion of her attack, and thus kept herself from being thrown off-balance. This saved her life as she immediately brought her weapon back and over to block a side-ways sweep of her opponent's silver saber. The moment the blades rang out in union, she leapt backwards, avoiding what was supposed to have been a surprise follow-up slice from her enemy.
Once more the Sword Master was thrown off-guard by Patty's anticipation of his attacks and could not stop the momentum of his sword as it chopped the air. Patty rushed him in this new moment of unbalance, holding her Hero Sword's tip forward to pierce his chest.
Rather than try to bring his Silver Sword to stand against this new attack, the man simply dropped to the ground, using his sword's momentum to bring himself into a roll.
This technique had never been used by any of Patty's previous sparring partners or opponents, and the young woman was completely thrown off-guard. Unable to stop her dash, she tripped over the man's body and went flying forward, landing face-first on the forest floor, her sword fleeing her grip to land several feet away.
The swordsman was back on his feet in a flash, advancing on Patty. She rolled over, eyes going from him to where her sword lay, realizing she could not reach it in time.
Her enemy stood before her now, ready to bring down the fatal blow. One chance--Patty grabbed a small but thick branch from the ground and swung it as forcefully as she could. The wood struck the Sword Master's face, the outcroppings of the desperate weapon tearing at his face and cutting a few gashes as they passed.
The swordsman grunted and stumbled a step to the side from the force of the blow. Patty used this momentary reprieve to scramble for her fallen weapon. She reached it, grabbed hold of the expertly-crafted handle, and rose to her feet to once more face her enemy just as he recovered.
Breathing heavily, Patty and the man regarded for one another for a moment. What thoughts ran through the imperial's mind were unknown to her, but she knew her own were dismal as they reflected that the gap in skill was too great--she could dodge her enemy's assaults for a time, thanks to sparring with friends who used similar styles, but she could not do so for long, and she could already judge from the fight so far that she had next to no chance of scoring a strike of her own.
While Patty had been fighting the Sword Master, Faval had continued his deadly Sniper's cycle until a warning flashed through his mind. Faval immediately threw himself down to the ground and narrowly avoided the small air-borne axe that cleaved the air as it passed overhead. His head swiveled to behold three imperial axe men, one with Hand Axes and the other two with silver ones, who had managed to avoid his detection and circle around to attack from behind.
Faval's mind raced, the warrior within him analyzing the situation in a moment. In this close a range, he could not risk taking the time to use his Ichival in combat; the enemies would easily kill him before he could even finish notching the legendary bow. He had no option but to evade his foes and try to put some distance between them and himself so that he could use his weapon once more.
The extra speed that the Ichival gave him making him a blur of motion, Faval rolled a few feet to the side as three axe heads buried themselves in the mossy forest floor where he had just been. Faval leapt to his feet and began to flee his opponents. He had not gone more than a few steps, however, than his ears picked up the unique sound of an axe whistling through the air. He hastily stepped to his left, next to a large oak tree, and barely avoided the Hand Axe that had been thrown at his back. So long as that one imperial had his supply of throwing axes, Faval would not be able to simply run away from his enemies.
One of the men armed with a Silver Axe had reached the young king of Verdane now, and swung the weapon in a horizontal arc to catch Faval in the chest. With his back to the tree, Faval could not escape backwards to avoid the deadly swing, and no side-step could possibly evade the axe's range. He took his only choice to escape the attack and brought his legendary bow up to block the attack.
Silver met the indestructible bow of legend, the clash of the two resounding throughout the clamor of battle. Even as his attacker withdrew his axe to swing once more, Faval immediately dropped to his knees as the second imperial, having just arrived, attempted to bring his weapon down upon the man's head. Finding himself suddenly with no target, the imperial soldier could not stop his swing's momentum and ended up burying his axe in the tree.
The instant that Faval had fallen to his knees, his hand had grabbed some moist, dark dirt from the ground. As he heard the axe over his head cut into the oak, he quickly stood and slammed the handful of sod into the face of his first attacker. The enemy axe man cried out as he was temporarily blinded, lowering his guard to wipe the dirt from his eyes. Faval used this moment of confusion to grab the man by the shoulders and hurl him forcefully to the ground.
Realizing that both enemies were disabled for a brief moment, Faval turned to fire a shaft at the remaining foe with the Hand Axes. Wait, now that the man was on his mind, why hadn't he had any axes flying at him in the past minute?
Scanning the forest ahead of him, Faval saw the reason for the lack of attacks. A few feet away, the enemy lay dead on the ground, carcass bleeding from what looked to be a spear thrust to the neck. Faval was puzzled to see that the person that stood beside the dead man, holding a bloody steel lance, was not one of Faval's own knights, but an unknown fighter, an Armor warrior.
The heavily-armored fighter rushed as quickly as was possible to where Faval stood in confusion. Faval found, however, that he had no time for confusion as one of his enemies freed his axe from the tree and the other arose from the ground, eyesight clear. As they were about to attack, however, the mysterious Armor arrived, taking advantage of the imperial troops' surprise to plunge its spear through one's chest.
The last soldier turned his attention to this new foe and attacked at once. The armored warrior, having lost the power of surprise, was quickly forced backwards as the enemy's axe swung over and over, barely being blocked sometimes and chipping away at the heavy armor at others.
This desperate battle did not last for long, however. In fact, it only lasted as long as it took for Faval to draw an arrow from his quiver, take aim, and fire.
Out of immediate danger, Faval turned to continue sniping his foes after calling a thanks to the armored combatant, only to be further surprised. There were at least twice as many fighters in the fray now! His knights still fought on, as did the imperial forces, but now a large number of unmarked men and women were in battle aiding Faval's side.
They were largely unskilled, and all badly-equipped for battle--most had only iron weaponry, a few had steel. Alone, they could never have posed a threat to the trained, well-equipped imperial forces, but as it was, they were overwhelming Faval's enemies. Unsure of who to attack, the imperial forces were turning to face the newcomers and opening their defenses to Faval's far more skilled and better equipped knights to exploit.
Faval immediately began to snipe his enemies as before. His new armored ally came forward to stand by his side to protect him from any further direct attackers.
With these unexpected and numerous reinforcements, Faval's forces were quickly overcoming the imperial forces that had pursued them, and it was obvious that the skirmish would be over in a matter of minutes. But if this knowledge ever registered with the Sword Master battling with Patty, he ignored it in favor of finishing her off.
Patty's initial advantage of having experience in combat against swordsmen with similar techniques was gone now; the Sword Master had had the sense to improvise and was now no longer using the complex skills of a master that Patty had been able to see through, but rather using a set of fairly basic attacking thrusts and slashes. Patty was able to keep up with this normal rhythm of fencing, parrying and dodging as it went, but again, she found the master's superior skill and speed left her no opportunity to make an attack of her own. Worse still, the thief was tiring quickly from her constant defensive, her hands and wrists joining the ringing sound of each clash of metal with their own knell of pain from the never-ending assault.
Perhaps the worst part of the situation was that Patty's foe was deliberately forcing their personal fight farther and farther away from the main battle. She doubted any of her allies would notice her predicament at this rate before her exhaustion led to a fatal error in her defenses.
Suddenly, the two dueling sword fighters heard someone crashing through the forest straight towards them. Both involuntarily turned their heads for a moment to behold the same man who had led Faval's group into these woods heading for the imperial swordsman, iron blade drawn.
The man snarled and swept his sword in a diagonal cut at the Sword Master. The master swordsman leaned back to avoid the blade, then drove his own through the Verdanian citizens unprotected chest. This instantly fatal strike was but the work of a moment.
A moment that Patty took advantage of, swinging her Hero Sword with her remaining strength up and deep into the neck of her enemy. The imperial was dead before he joined the Verdanian on the forest floor.
Patty looked over at the rest of the group, but it seemed that this Sword Master was one of the last enemies to fall. The small handful of imperials left were easily being dealt with, and she was not needed to help. She knelt, laid her hand on the head of the fallen Verdanian who had sacrificed his life for hers, and silently, somberly thanked him for what he had done for her, and for her friends, as she assumed these new allies had been his doing.
After offering a prayer that the afterlife would be kind to this brave Verdanian that had given his life to protect people he had not even known, Patty stood and went to join her allies, old and new. The battle was over now, and most of the unknown men and women were busy taking the superior gear of the imperial troops from the corpses strewn about the forest.
She joined Faval, an Armor soldier, and a few of the unknown Verdanians who had approached him.
"Patty!" Faval said, relieved, as she approached. He gave her a quick hug. "I didn't see you anywhere. Glad you're okay."
He released her, and his expression of relief turned grief-stricken once more. "I only wish I could say the same about all of our friends...thankfully we didn't lose many right here, but...but in town...I..."
"Faval...Faval, that wasn't your fault," Patty told him. "You couldn't have known we'd be so outnumbered. It's not your fault!"
Before either could say anything more, one of the Verdanians who had been standing nearby interrupted. "Faval? And Patty? You mean...you're the ones from the army led by Selis? The one that overthrew the Empire's capitol in Grandbell?"
The two nodded.
"That means you're both...Tidlym will need to hear of this! Finally," the man said, joyful and relieved, "the day we've been waiting for is at hand! Please, Lord Faval, Lady Patty...follow us to our headquarters deeper within the forest. The imperials will send reinforcements once they fail to hear from this group, and you will need to hide as we do. And our leader must speak with you."
With that, the man gave a shrill whistle. His allies finished their looting their fallen foes and followed him further into the forest.
"They did save us," Patty said to her brother. "We should go with them. Maybe they can help us!"
Faval nodded and gave the signal to his knights to follow these Verdanian strangers.
The RPGenius' Fanfiction